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Hands-On: Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze

Nintendo’s surprise game of the E3 this year wasn’t a new entry in the Star Fox or Metroid saga but a sequel of Donkey Kong Country Returns. The sequel is named Tropical Freeze and is, just like the original on Wii, developed by Retro Studios. Retro is known for its flawless and near perfect games so it’s time to see if Tropical Freeze can measure up with the high expectations.

The first thing we noticed during our play session with the new DK game on Wii U, was how beautiful everything looked. Donkey Kong finally made the leap into high definition graphics and he’s better looking than ever before. Donkey Kong is a primal with real fur this time, you’ll see every single hair on his body and it’s a true blessing for the eyes. Not only do the characters look great, the environment is looking great as well with vibrant colors and a lot of activity in the background.

The original Donkey Kong Country Returns featured music crazed enemies while this sequel features Vikings and… Penguins. Donkey Kong’ island is overrun by Vikings and they bring the freezing cold with them. This is the perfect excuse for Retro to include some polar enemies as well as some icy gameplay elements.

While playing through the first level of the demo we noticed some new gameplay elements that weren’t there in the first game on Wii. Back from the past and demanded by fans is the water-gameplay. DK will once again have the ability to dive into the water and swim his way through enemies and environmental danger. The water gameplay feels like a trip down memory lane but plays as fluent as the ‘regular’ land sections.

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Tropical Freeze still is a fast paced side-scrolling platform game filled with danger and tricky jumps. DK Country Returns was known to be a hard game so Retro Studios gave Donkey Kong one more heart, making a total of three hearts. According to official screenshots you’ll be able to play the game on a harder-mode as well where you’ll only have two hearts instead of three.

Aside from the bonus heart, the game rather stays true to the successful formula. You’ll once more be able to free Diddy Kong from its barrel, gaining three extra hearts and the ability to hover over the ground thanks to the little guy’ jetpack. New will be the introduction of Dixie Kong but she wasn’t playable just yet.

While playing through the second level of the demo we noticed another new element, levers. Sometimes you’ll run past a lever that’s firmly stuck in the ground. Thanks to DK’s brutal power you’re able to pull the lever out of the ground, revealing new environments our hidden rooms in the game. It looks like Retro took a step back from the ‘blowing flowers and plants in order to reveal new stuff, found in the Wii game’. Replacing this blowing-principle with levers is a clever move by Retro, the levers don’t get in the way of the flow.

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The biggest innovation however is the dynamic camera introduced at E3. This camera doenst’t change that much to the gameplay but it makes the game more exciting to play. Imagine a level filled with barrels where you’ll have to shoot DK at the right time towards the right barrel. In other DK Country games those barrels could only move left, right, up or down. Thanks to the dynamic camera, which will follow DK’s every move, those barrels can move in any direction desired. Therefor you won’t have the idea you’re playing just a simple 2D side-scrolling game.

The demo ended in a rather classic boss-fight in which you had to defeat a big blue seal by dodging enemies and timing your jumps very precisely. It’s not the most original or hardest boss-fight ever but we’re sure it’s one of the game’s first big battles so the others will prove more challenge.

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze proved that Retro Studios once again knows what it’s doing. The demo showed the typical fast paced, hard to put down 2D side-scrolling gameplay fans all over the world love. The innovations found in new playable characters, better graphics and a dynamic camera aren’t that big or world changing but result in  a better Donkey Kong game nevertheless. Donkey Kong Country Returns already made clear that the primal still knows how to star in great game and according to the demo it seems Tropical Freeze will be even better. We can’t wait to see the final version in action!

Got interested in games since I could read. Started with Nintendo but evolved into an all-round gamer. I love all kind of games; triple A games to Indie. If the vibe is right, I'll enjoy playing it.